Andrea Brunais of Virginia Tech’s Faculty Development Institute recently spoke at a gathering of freelance writers and gave them some advice on making it as a freelancer. Bruanis has more than 25 years of news media and public relations experience and is the co-author of a book on media relations titled, I See Your Name Everywhere. She has served on the editorial boards of Knight Ridder and Media General newspapers and is the recipient of a Robert Kennedy Journalism Award and first-place awards from the Florida Press Club, the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. Here is a summary of her talk:
1. Know the audience of the publication for which you wish to write. A surefire way to determine the audience is to look at the ads. They represent the interests of the current and future readers. You’re not writing to express yourself. You’re not even writing to please the editor. You’re actually aiming to connect with the readers the editor wants, which are not necessarily the ones he or she has now.
2. Don’t waste the editor’s time. Keep emails and phone calls short and to the point. Don’t pitch stories that are completely outside what the magazine does or topics that have been covered recently.
3. Make sure your story is accurate. If it’s a complex story, at the very least, run the direct quotes by the source. If the source is unhappy, the editor is the one who has to take his or her phone call, not the writer.
4. Write and then sit on the content for a day or two. Don’t turn an article in the moment you’ve written it, because you know you’re going to go back and revise—and that means sending the editor more emails and asking him or her to change your work (see item #2).
5. But—keep in touch with the editor so the editor becomes invested in the story. Production schedules change, and you don’t want to find that the editor has changed the theme for the May issue, didn’t tell you and can’t use your piece. You may or may not get a kill fee, but you sure won’t get a byline.
6. Deliver the goods.
7. Don’t exceed the word limit.
8. Write well.
9. Have a trusted friend-cum-editor read your work over before submission.
10. Do great work, and you’ll be in demand.
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